When J. David Goldin visited UMKC in May 2010, I could not pass up the opportunity to speak with him. He has listened to and annotated thousands upon thousands of hours of historical American radio. He has a passion for radio, as he said in our conversation, “I collected the stuff because I like to listen to it.”
There are not many people in the world with his knowledge and exposure to radio. So I decided to ask him the ultimate question:
“What is good radio?”
He replied, “It’s a tough question. How can one put that in words?”
“It makes you use your mind…it actually makes you think about what you are listening to. A lot of people listen to the radio, but don’t really hear it today.”
“Good radio makes you want to listen.”
“What are you looking at when you listen to the radio? It’s one of the few things that you do, where you don’t need your eyes. And so, do you look at the radio receiver, do you look across the room, let your eyes go out of focus? My favorite program would be the kind where you forget your eye completely and just listen with your imagination.”
I asked him to give me some examples of good radio. He said as far as writers, Arch Oboler and Norman Corwin are high on his list. If he was stranded on an island with one radio series it would be the Jack Benny program. He also mentioned a specific play titled The Dark Tower by Louis MacNeice.
“[The Dark Tower] was totally different from anything else I had ever heard before. I would pinpoint that one as the most interesting program that I ever heard. It was totally different then any of my other experiences.”
The radio play is a fantasy about the youngest and last son in a family of many sons. All of the men in his family including the father have gone to fight a dragon and never returned. As he travels toward the dark tower where the dragon lives, he battles with his loyalty to his family’s history and his own personal desires. The story takes him through many magical and metaphysical situations, and has a profound, thrilling ending (you must hear it!).
“Good radio should be intrinsically radio,” Goldin also said. And The Dark Tower is an example of this. It is a play that is so engaging because it plays in the mind in fantastical ways that would be spoiled in a visual medium.
While the actual recording of The Dark Tower is very hard to get a hold of, there is a recording of an interview with its author and Edward R. Murrow and also a disc of MacNeice reading some of his own poetry in the Marr Sound Archives.
Goldin emphasized at one point, “There aren’t that many people interested in creative radio, or radio as an art form. It seems to have gone far away.” But thanks to Goldin and his preservation of so many historical American radio recordings there is a chance for this situation to change. “Good radio” is worth the listening.
Troy Cummings, guest contributor